At present, the commercial wind power industry is enjoying a great deal of success with land-based wind generator deployment for production of electric power. It’s reasonable, then, to ask why the industry would be interested in pursuing offshore wind power, which presents greatly increased logistical and construction problems compared to building turbines on land. The simple answer is that the potential available wind power on land is limited, and the best places to locate wind farms, purely in terms of power-generation potential, are offshore. In addition, the potential environmental hazards are less than with wind power on land. That makes development of offshore wind power worth the extra effort and expense, according to a Pike Research study that anticipates rapid growth of the industry, provided certain barriers can be overcome.
Offshore wind power already is in use in Europe, particularly in the UK, but also in Sweden and the Netherlands. As with all wind power, it provides renewable energy and, by displacing fossil-fuel use, reduces the emission of greenhouse gases. The problem with offshore wind power is the cost of installation. On land, the bulk of the cost of wind turbines is the equipment itself. Offshore wind power, however, costs a great deal more to install than it does to build in the first place. This is largely due to the need to sink support structures into the ocean floor, a process not unlike what is necessary to construct an offshore oil platform, but over a considerably wider area and in support of more structures. This necessity also limits the areas where offshore wind power may be constructed, as in many parts of the ocean the water is too deep to make such construction practical.
Studies on expected cost reductions for offshore wind power have been published recently in this blog. Alasdair Cameron presented data to suggest a 15 percent price drop in offshore wind power by 2022; however, this would still leave offshore wind power substantially more expensive than land-based wind power generation. Perhaps more promising in the long run is the development of the first floating offshore wind turbine, which would eliminate much of the construction cost of offshore wind power and allow deployment of the turbines in deep-water areas currently not feasible.
There is little doubt that if the production of offshore wind power could be made more cost-effective, it would represent a considerable advance in the development of renewable energy, for all of the reasons that offshore wind power is superior to land-based wind power.
image credit: Nick Treby on flickr